The BIRGER GANG

Charlie Birger and his gang were representative of '20's organized crime...

Birger's Beginnings
 Shady Rest
 Conviction & Hanging
Visitor Stories

Birger's beginnings
 
Charlie Birger remains a legendary figure in southern Illinois, due to his prominent position as one of the region's leading organized crime figures during the prohibition era of the 1920's.  He was also known as a charitable member of his adopted community, Harrisburg, in Saline County. Birger was infamous for bootlegging and operating shady enterprises related to gambling and prostitution in primarily Saline, Williamson, and Franklin Counties. But it was murder that eventually brought him down, resulting in the destruction of his empire and his own hanging - the last public hanging in Illinois.

Charlie Birger was born Shachna Itzik Birger in Russia between 1880 and 1883. The family emigrated to New York City in 1887, then moved to St. Louis, where Charlie spent his early youth. In 1901 he joined the 13th U.S. Cavalry, where he demonstrated his horsemanship, and served until 1904 at various posts in the west, including Montana and South Dakota. Throughout his life, Birger liked to dress in riding attire to exhibit his love of horses and horseriding.

Following his stint in the Cavalry, Birger spent some time in East St. Louis and other parts before moving to the Harrisburg area (see map below).


Charlie Birger 
By the early '20s Charlie Birger was married to his second wife, had two children, and was a successful business man. He had successfully built up a string of establishments centered on gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging, and a reputation to go with it. Most of his operations were around Harrisburg: on the west side of town, one on West Poplar street, and several houses on the east side of town. But he also had a hand in some shady ventures in places like the Halfway House, midway between Marion and Johnston City. Click on the map to the right to see a more detailed map of the region.

In 1923, the handsome, neat young man killed two men in three days, one of them at the Halfway House. Birger claimed self defense and was cleared of any charges on both occasions, but the second time he took a bullet in his lung and spent some time at Herrin Hospital recuperating. These were just two of many slayings that have been linked to Birger. Late in his career of crime, Birger is said to have admitted, “Yes, I’ve killed men, but never a good one.” 

Harrisburg, Illinois and the southern Illinois region 
In December of the same year, Birger was caught in one of the early anti-bootlegging raids led by the Ku Klux Klan and S. Glenn Young. It was the first of several clashes between Birger and other bootleggers and the powerful Young during the next year. Once out of jail he began work on the ultimate roadhouse, about halfway between Marion and Harrisburg on Route 13 -- Shady Rest. This would become the focal point for his operations, and the roadhouse boomed during 1925.

It was during this time that Charlie Birger joined forces with the Shelton brothers, Carl, Earl, and Bernie. The Shelton gang was running bootlegged liquor up from the southern U.S. for distribution in southern Illinois and the St. Louis area. Birger collaborated with the Sheltons to provide Harrisburg as a final layover for the runners; final preparations of the liquor for made there. The two gangs also worked together to establish slot machines across the region.

Next pageNEXT:  Birger's Shady Rest hideout...

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 Why "Egypt"?  |
 The Birger Gang |
 Great Tornado of 1925  |
 Herrin Massacre  |
 Railroads & So. Illinois  |
 Illinois Maps


 

Last updated July 31, 1999.
Please send comments & suggestions to Curt Westra: cwestra@oocities.com
This page accessed  times since January 17, 1998

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